Lexington resident and accomplished foiler Lee Kiefer qualified for her third Olympics in January 2020. Two months later, the pandemic changed her life as she knew it.
Kiefer and her husband, Olympic fencer Gerek Meinhardt, couldn’t visit their club to train regularly, so they built a fencing track in his parents’ basement to stay sharp.
âWe just tried to maintain a baseline so we didn’t forget how to throw ourselves off and our point control didn’t get too bad,â Kiefer told USAFencing.org. “But then we went back to school, and so for probably the first time in my life, I was pretty much a full time student, and it was a different feeling.”
Kiefer, a graduate of Notre Dame High School and Paul Laurence Dunbar, is in her third year of medicine at the University of Kentucky. Meinhardt is on his first. The former Fighting Irish fencers, married since 2019, have put their studies on hold while preparing for Tokyo with Team USA.
Kiefer could become the first American to win Olympic gold in individual foil. His journey begins at 8 p.m. ET Saturday in Tokyo (watch on NBCOlympics.com).
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All in the family
Fencing has long been a family affair in the Kiefer clan, starting with Lee’s father, Steve, former Duke team captain. Lee’s older sister, Alex, was the NCAA and All-American fencing champion at Harvard. His younger brother, Axel, was second in men’s foil at the 2019 NCAA Championships and an All-American at Notre Dame.
Lee Kiefer told the Behind the Blue podcast that fencing and medicine “are all I’ve ever known.” Her father is a neurosurgeon and her mother, Teresa, is a psychiatrist. His brothers and sisters also followed paths in medicine.
But first, the three Kiefer children developed an affinity for fencing.
âGrowing up my dad decided he wanted to try fencing. He hadn’t picked up foil, say, for 10 or 15 years. And me and my siblings watched him compete in a local tournament. . Then he asked if we wanted to try it. We said yes. And almost 20 years later, I’m still here, still doing it, “Kiefer said.
And here’s a fun fact: Axel Kiefer won a college honor named after his sister and brother-in-law. Notre Dame hired him in 2019 for the Lee Kiefer / Gerek Meinhardt Award, given to the fencer who gives of his time with altruism and humility in training.
Kiefer’s husband Meinhardt won bronze on the US men’s fencing team in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and will compete in his fourth Olympics in Tokyo. The 30-year-old is ranked world No. 2 in men’s foil.
A climb to n Â° 1
Kiefer was pretty sure the Rio Olympics would be his last, but continued to compete internationally after the 2016 Games.
This came as a surprise to Kiefer when she reached the World Fencing Federation’s No. 1 ranking in women’s foil in March 2017. This step, a first for a foil maker representing the United States, quickly renewed the Kiefer’s motivation.
âBy magic, I became # 1 (in the world),â Kiefer said on the podcast. “I was like, ‘What happened?’ I didn’t do fencing at the Olympics like that and now I have all this confidence and all this new love for fencing. “
Kiefer, a 5-foot-4 right-hander, was a four-time member of the U.S. first all-team at Notre Dame and won four national championships. After moving to Kentucky to attend medical school, his family and school officials supported his plan to suspend studies for the Tokyo Olympics.
The third time, is it a charm?
Kiefer was just 18 and a high school graduate when she competed in the London Olympics in 2012. She was 22 when she competed in the Rio Games.
Her Olympic debut was a once-in-a-lifetime experience as she said she had no expectations for herself and “nobody gave me up because I was so young”.
âNobody expected me to win a medal and I didn’t, but fifth place was a great result,â said Kiefer, who has long been coached by Amgad Khazbak at Bluegrass Fencers’ Club.
After: British medical student Lee Kiefer aims to make Tokyo Games history
She placed 10th in the women’s individual foil in Rio. Now ranked fifth in the world in her discipline and aged 27, she is aiming for a historic medal in what could be her last Games.
Kiefer’s biggest accomplishments so far include gold in women’s team foil at the 2018 World Championships in China and becoming the first fencer to win three consecutive Pan American Games individual titles in any armed. She is a ten-time Pan American Team Champion and a nine-time Pan American Individual Champion.
Contact Shannon Russell at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @slrussell.